EXPLAINED: How to drink wine like a Swiss

When foreigners think of ‘typically’ Swiss foods, cheese and chocolate naturally come to mind. Not many people know, however, that Switzerland is also a wine producing (and drinking) nation.

With little practice, you’ll master the art of drinking wine like the Swiss do. Photo by Zan on Unsplash
With little practice, you’ll master the art of drinking wine like the Swiss do. Photo by Zan on Unsplash

Many people abroad have no clue that Switzerland produces its own wines because, unlike cheese and chocolate, wine is not widely exported.

In fact, Switzerland exports only 1 percent of its wine. As a comparison, neighbours Italy and France sell abroad 20.8 percent and 13.6 percent of their wine production respectively – including to Switzerland.

The reason is that Switzerland’s 1,500 vintners in six wine-growing areas (Geneva, German-speaking Switzerland, Ticino, Vaud, Valais, and Three Lakes region), barely yield enough grapes to satisfy the domestic demand, much less quench the thirst of other nations.

This is where Swiss wine regions are located. Image: Switzerland Tourism

More than 250 varieties of grapes grow in Switzerland. The most popular is Chasselas (white) — a 12th-century native Swiss variety that originated on the shores of Lake Geneva.

It is still the most dominant grape of the Vaud region, where it makes up 61 percent of the total production. It’s  grown widely in the other Swiss wine regions  as well, including in Valais, where it is known as Fendant.

Chasselas is also the main grape in Switzerland’s most famous (and spectacularly picturesque) wine-growing area of Lavaux in Vaud. The terraced vineyards sloping into Lake Geneva were recognised in 2007 as the UNESCO World Heritage site.

The terraced vineyards of Lavaux. Photo: Région du Léman

Other popular varieties include Pinot Noir, Gamay, Merlot, Humagne Rouge, Arvine, Savagnin Blanc, Gamaret, Garanoir, Pinot Gris and, in Ticino, Merlot.

What wine do the Swiss like to drink most?

Like everything else in Switzerland, it depends on the canton. Or rather, on the town / village where people live — a reflection of grassroots patriotism so prevalent in this country.

As so many communities produce their own wines from local grapes, residents tend to favour regional wines, though they sometimes do buy bottles “imported” from other areas of Switzerland.

What you should know about wine drinking in Switzerland

You will probably notice that corks pop as soon as at least two people get together, often regardless of what time of the day or night it is.

If you are not a wine aficionado, you may have problems making friends in Switzerland (of course, you could have problems making friends anyway, but that’s an entirely different topic).

In fact, if you refuse a glass of wine without immediately offering medical reasons, you will be eyed suspiciously by the Swiss.

That’s because wine is not only an integral part of social interactions, but a bonding experience as well, which can’t be replicated by drinking, say, a Coke or mineral water.

This is what you should know to fit in

Not surprisingly, given how Swiss people are sticklers for the rules, there is a certain etiquette involved in wine drinking.   

To many Swiss people, French wines are, needless to say, inferior (as everything French is), and don’t even try to sell them on Italian or Spanish wines. They will, literally and figuratively, turn up their noses at them. That’s the first point.

Secondly, but just as importantly, if you drink with a Swiss friend, you don’t shout “bottoms up”, then unceremoniously chug your wine down and ask for more. You have to hold your glass by the stem, look into your friend’s eyes, preferably without blinking, for at least five seconds, then clink your glasses.

Only then can you sip your wine, praising its fragrance, aroma, depth of colour, and the Swiss region it came from.

A couple of interesting facts about Swiss wine:

  • Switzerland has the smallest vineyard in the world (you didn’t expect it to have the largest, did you?)
    Saillon, in Valais, measures 1.6 square-metres and has been owned by the Dalai Lama since 1999. 
  • It also boasts Europe’s highest vineyard. Below the village of Visperterminen, also in Valais,  lies Europe’s highest vineyard at an elevation of between 650m and 1,150m above sea level.

Cheers to that!

 EXPLAINED: Why is Switzerland so obsessed with cheese?


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What you need to know when taking your clothes off in Switzerland

As you know by now, the Swiss have laws and regulations for pretty much everything — ranging from how to throw away your garbage to how to boil a lobster. But what about nudity? Here's the bare truth.

What you need to know when taking your clothes off in Switzerland

The weather is getting warmer and you may want to shed as much of your clothing as you legally can. But how much skin can you safely bare in Switzerland?

You may be surprised to learn that Switzerland’s, um, penal code does not ban public nudity — as long as it is not indecent.

Interestingly though, the term “indecent” is not clearly defined in the Swiss law, so it is open to interpretation.

Be it as it may, the subject was widely reported in the media in 2009, when residents of Appenzell Innerrhoden complained about people hiking in their mountains, wearing nothing but backpacks and hiking boots.

Their concern had nothing to do with the fact that unclothed hikers took to the mountains in the middle of a cold Alpine winter.

Rather, they disliked that the walkers passed families with children and a Christian rehabilitation facility. 

The case eventually ended up before the cantonal court, which ruled that people should cover up when walking in public places. However, this ruling applies only in Appenzell, not in the rest of the country.

Another example of the liberal attitude that reigns in much of Switzerland regarding nudity has been the Body and Freedom Festival that took place regularly in August in various Swiss cities until 2018.

The festival exposed —  literally — actors performing in the buff in the midst of crowded city streets.

During one such event that took place in Bienne, local officials not only authorised the performance, but also contributed $20,000 of public funds to it.

The only condition they made was that, for safety reasons, naked performers stay clear of traffic, so drivers wouldn’t be distracted.

READ MORE: Naked artists cause stir with Zurich street performances

What about topless bathing in public?

This practice is much more common than walking in the nude (after all, how many naked hikers have you encountered on mountain trails?)

Nothing in the federal law addresses the issue of toplessness; cantons don’t have such legislation either, leaving final decisions in this matter to individual municipalities.

It is perhaps incorrect to say that the vast majority of communes in Switzerland actually authorise topless sunbathing and swimming, but they don’t ban it either.

In fact, there is currently a motion in the parliament (because apparently MPs are not busy enough with more pressing matters) urging Swiss officials to allow toplessness on public beaches.

“Such a topless rule is absolutely necessary in Switzerland”, said Social Democratic MP Tamara Funiciello.  “Women should be able to walk around, swim, and sunbathe as they please”.

Helena Trachsel, head of the Equal Opportunities Office in the canton of Zurich, also believes that toplessness makes sense: “From an equal opportunities perspective, it is clear that the same rules apply to all genders, including women and non-binary people”, she said.

However, Martin Enz, managing director of the Association of Indoor and Outdoor Pools sees no need for action: “If a person discreetly drops their bikini top and does not show off, this is accepted in most outdoor pools. The problem tends to be men who gape”, he noted.

So when and where can you take your clothes off in Switzerland?

What is clear is that you definitely should not walk around naked anywhere in Appenzell.

As far as other cantons and or /municipalities are concerned — whether you want to hike naked in the mountains or swim topless — it’s best to check with your local authorities about what is and is not permitted in your area before you leave your house buck naked.

READ MORE: The 12 strange laws in Switzerland you need to know